Day 3 of Martha on a Mission--the OSCE/ODIHR Ukraine Election Observation Mission.
I am now in Odesa (Ukrainian version), Odessa (Russian version). I note this seemingly small spelling point because it is emblematic of a key issue in today's Ukraine---the challenge of ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians, Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking people, all living together in what is, politically at least, the relatively young country of Ukraine. The relationship between Ukraine and Russia, the entire Ukrainian/Russian dimension, is a major issue in the presidential election, final round to be held tomorrow, Feb. 7, 2010. What kind of relationship with Russia Ukraine should, or shouldn't have, is top of mind. And tomorrow, Ukrainians will decide which candidate they believe will handle that relationship the best way for the country: Yulia Tymoshenko, of Orange Revolution fame and current Prime Minister, or Viktor Yanukovich, he of the fraudulent "win" in 2004 which was overturned.
For better or for worse, Russia is critical to Ukraine, thanks to many things including history, economics, gas pipeline routes to Europe, and the influence of the newly-rich oligarchs. Ukraine is inextricably connected to Russia, and is dependent on that relationship, one way or another, whether Ukrainians like it or not.
Many commentators see this as a step backwards for Ukraine, and that it somehow symbolizes a "failure" of the Orange Revolution. Witness the headline from Doug Saunders' piece in the Globe and Mail, "The Orange Revolution fades to black as Russia rises again in Ukraine", http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/the-orange-revolution-fades-to-black-as-russia-rises-again-in-ukraine/article1429207/ or the one from his earlier piece, "Ukraine marches to polls, leaves hope behind", http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/ukraine-marches-to-polls-leaves-hope-behind/article1458599/ In the latter article, Mr. Saunders says, "The presidential ballot that Ukrainians will face tomorrow, the first election since those revolutionary days, feels like a reversal of all the gains."
Many proponents of the Orange Revolution supported it because the first 2004 election result which 'elected' pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich was determined to have been a fraud (thanks to international observers, of which I am now one). A new, clean, election then brought Orange Revolutionary Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency. Yes, many wanted to see an end to Russian influence and control. But key was that the fraudulent election was overturned. THAT was what the Orange Revolution did.
It was democracy, at first flaunted, then successful.
And successful democracy doesn't mean that the candidate any particular person likes wins--it means that the candidate who garners the most votes in a clean election wins. Even if some people don't like that person's policies. Or who he or she wants to align the country with. If it turns out that he or she isn't acceptable after all, the voters will vote him or her out the next time.
The fact of clean elections, in 2004 and since, together with a continuing spirit of open democracy, were the biggest successes of the Orange Revolution. And although there is disappointment in the Orange Revolution and its failure to fulfill economic and other promises, the first round of the election held January 17 was deemed, for the most part, clean and the results legitimate. The sheer fact of free media, massive rallies by competing candidates, and most importantly, open and often vigorous debate among the people---waitresses, lawyers, taxi drivers, business people, hotel receptionists---means, in my view, that a big part of the Orange Revolution was successful.
It may still be in transition, but achieving this level of democracy is a major success and gives hope to the future of Ukraine.
We all hope that the election tomorrow keeps this promise.